Lessons of the anti-apartheid sports boycott for Palestinian solidarity

On Tuesday 5 February, Helen Yaffe represented the Non-Stop Against Apartheid project at a meeting organised by Football Beyond Borders at SOAS.  The meeting asked, “What can the boycott of the U21 UEFA Football Championships in Israel learn from the Anti-Apartheid Movement?” Here we offer a report on the evening’s discussions.

The meeting opened with the inspiring, informative and emotive film Have you heard from Johannesburg: Fair Play (2010) about the worldwide campaign to get apartheid South Africa banned from international sports competitions. It focused first on efforts, initiated by South African activist Dennis Brutus, to have the country expelled from the Olympics and later how activists mobilized to stop the South African rugby team – the Springboks – from playing in Britain, Australia and New Zealand in the late 1960s. Following the film, Patsy Pillar, a white South African woman, one of the founders of the exile-initiated boycott movement in Britain in 1959, reflected on how this strategy took roots in Britain and developed into an international solidarity movement.

Helen Yaffe’s presentation about the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (CLAAG) briefly explained its origins and purpose, and summarized the types of boycott and solidarity actions the group engaged in. Illustrated with photos from the Non-Stop Picket, occupations of South African Airways and other protests, Helen then drew out the key principles and/or lessons which could be adopted in boycott campaigning:

  • Boycotts should be part of active political campaign, not a passive action by individual consumers;
  • Use all available channels simultaneously, from pressure group tactics to direct action in the streets;
  • Make the campaign/boycott relevant to people in Britain by relating to racial, class and sexual oppression – identification will increase participation;
  • Defence campaigns are vitally important – success brings publicity and builds confidence. (There were over 700 arrests on the Non-Stop Picket of the South African Embassy, but the group won 90% of court cases);
  • Educate activists. They must know what they are fighting for and against, especially with regard to the role of British political/economic interests;
  • Don’t be held back by disapproval from ‘respectable’ forces;
  • Internal democracy encourages participation: Everyone should have speaking rights; there should be no censorship of literature or groups.
Springbok Reception Committee banner (Source: City Group)

Springbok Reception Committee banner (Source: City Group)

Next Maha Rezeq, a Palestinian activist described how Palestinians grow up in struggle and affirmed the importance of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The final panelist was Geoff Lee from the Red Card to Israel campaign, who detailed their work to date in demanding the relocation of the under 21s UEFA football championship, which is due to take place in Israel in June 2013. When he mentioned that UEFA are meeting in London on 24 May, it was suggested that this would provide an ideal opportunity for a vibrant protest, inspired by those thousands of courageous and uncompromising anti-apartheid activists in the late 1960s, to demand that the games are moved out of Israel.

The chair, Timesh Pillay, did an excellent job of opening, summarising and encouraging participation, and there were numerous questions and comments from the audience of around 50, mostly students, several specifically about the Red Card campaign. One of the more general questions asked whether the treatment of Palestinians by Israel could be compared to the apartheid system in South Africa. Helen referred to comments from Desmond Tutu, a black leader of the liberation movement in South Africa, who condemns ‘Israeli apartheid’, and she questioned the absence of a powerful boycott campaign against Israel like the one against apartheid in South Africa.

There are just four months left to build an effective boycott campaign to demand the relocation of the under 21s UEFA football championships. Individuals and groups are encouraged to get involved. The next meeting takes place at SOAS on Thursday 14 February at 7pm.

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About Gavin Brown

Lecturer in Human Geography University of Leicester
This entry was posted in Dissemination, Helen Yaffe, Popular & Informal Education, Project staff and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lessons of the anti-apartheid sports boycott for Palestinian solidarity

  1. Pingback: Trying to stop Zola Budd in her tracks | Non-Stop Against Apartheid

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